The fleet of construction cranes along the Riviera Maya coastline indicates the sea change in store for Cancún. Traditionally the terrain of spring-breakers and package-deal tourists, this city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has shifted its focus toward five-star resorts and boutique hotels—and the people who would occupy them. “We are trying to bring a more affluent crowd to the area,” says Julio Viscontti, vice president of the Mexican Caribbean Golf Course Association. Indeed, golf is a critical component of this plan: More than a dozen courses, including several designed by the game’s leading architects, are in various stages of development on the Riviera Maya.
El Camaleón (The Chameleon), the first new course on Cancún’s horizon, is set to open at the Fairmont Mayakoba resort this fall. The Greg Norman design will play through (and presumably adapt to) three distinct environments: a mangrove estuary, limestone-lined canals, and finally the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A boat at the Fairmont will ferry golfers from their suites to the first hole through the resort’s system of lagoons. Once at the tee, they will face a 558-yard par 5 marked by a massive cenote in the fairway. Players whose wayward shots land in this geological hazard—a natural well that forms when the limestone surface collapses—may count themselves lucky that they sacrificed only a ball and a stroke. In centuries past, the Mayans of the Yucatán tossed gold, jade, and even the occasional human into these sinkholes to placate their gods.
Norman also is building a course this year at Playa Mujeres, a resort just north of Cancún that will consist of four hotels and a marina capable of accommodating 205 yachts. His competitors on the Riviera Maya will include golfer Nick Price, who by the end of 2006 will complete the first of three Tournament Players Club (TPC) courses at La Roca Country Club on the west side of Cancún. Tom Fazio will build one of the remaining two TPC tracks. At Puerto Cancún, adjacent to the city, a Tom Weiskopf course will lie next to a 350-yacht marina, and Jack Nicklaus is designing two courses at Riviera Cancún, just north of the hotel strip.
With Nicklaus’ Moon Palace course in Playa del Carmen (opened in 2003), P.B. Dye’s recently completed Playa Paraiso (see “Plowing through Paradise,” page 66), and the Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed Cancún Golf Club (which is scheduled for renovation), Cancún already has become a respectable golf destination. Now that Norman, Weiskopf, Price, and Fazio are coming to town, the Yucatán soon may displace the tip of Baja California as Mexico’s premier peninsula for golf.
Mexican Caribbean Golf Course Association, +52.998.887.5717, www.cancungolf.org